ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine appeared poised to win an America East baseball title in 2013.
However, the Black Bears’ first regular-season championship in 11 years did not translate into a trip to an NCAA regional.
The disappointing loss to Binghamton University in the league title game has served only to further motivate this year’s ballclub.
“The way it ended, it stunk for us,” said senior co-captain and pitching ace Tommy Lawrence. “Everyone’s coming back, they all want to win and bring back the America East championship.”
Coach Steve Trimper’s squad opens its season Friday with the first of three games against the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.
UMaine returns several positional regulars and most of its pitchers. However, the Bears have some key holes to fill, including two starting pitching spots, shortstop, catcher and third base.
“Our offense, I think, is going to be outstanding, our pitching is going to be better than it was and defense is going to be our question mark,” said the ninth-year coach.
On the mound, senior right-hander Tommy Lawrence hopes to again lead the way after going 11-3 with a 2.32 earned run average and 78 strikeouts in 104 ⅔ innings on his way to America East Pitcher of the Year honors.
“We were miffed, shocked, that he wasn’t drafted last year,” Trimper offered. “He’s a fierce competitor and he might have a little chip on his shoulder.”
UMaine will attempt to replace the 12 wins posted by graduated A.J. Bazdanes and pro signee Mike Connolly with a staff that returns sophomore righties Jake Marks (4-0, 3.16), Logan Fullmer (2-3, 5.62), Burk Fitzpatrick (0-0, 3.74), Charlie Butler (0-0, 2.79) and a now-healthy senior righty Sean Coughlin (2-1, 3.20).
Junior lefty Scott Heath of Westbrook also will be counted upon to make an impact, while junior left-hander Steve Trask of Saco and sophomore righty Luke Morrill of South Thomaston (2-1, 5.12) have experience. Junior transfer Jacob Gosselin-Deschesnes and freshman Jeff Gelinas of Saco also are in the mix.
“Most of them are right-handers who throw between 85 and 88 [mph] with three pitches and they throw them for strikes and don’t walk a lot of guys,” Trimper said.
On offense, UMaine must replaced the potent bats of AE Player of the Year and Pittsburgh draft choice Mike Fransoso, Eric White of Brewer, Connolly (San Francisco) and Fran Whitten. White opted not to return for his senior season.
Senior Troy Black (.363, 1 home run, 24 runs batted in, 13 stolen bases) was the Black Bears’ top hitter last season. He has been moved from second base to shortstop and elevated to the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
“This summer I played shortstop, too. It’s not that big of an adjustment,” Black said. “Things happen faster. You have less time to get rid of the ball.”
Junior Brian Doran (.312, 1 HR, 23 RBI), Sam Balzano of Portland (.299, 21 RBI, 21 SB) and senior Colin Gay (.259, 2 HR, 26 RBI, 18 SB) provide plenty of speed in the outfield and on the basepaths. They’ll be joined by junior college transfer Steven Adam and freshman Jake Osborne.
That group should give UMaine the ability to put pressure on opposing defenses as returnees stole 64 bases a year ago.
Black is joined on the left side of the infield by senior Alex Calbick (.280, 2 HR, 33 RBI), who played a lot at first a year ago and was the MVP of the Pacific Coast League last summer as a third baseman.
“He has a good arm and good hands and the [summer] coaches and scouts couldn’t stop raving about his defense,” Trimper said.
The second base job is up for grabs between freshman Skylar Mercado and sophomore Shane Bussey (.340, 1 HR, 12 RBI).
However, Bussey and Morrill are suspended for the first six games because of their alleged involvement in an incident involving the removal of equipment from a UMaine tool shed in December.
Heath (.279, 1 HR, 25 RBI) and sophomore Brenden Geary should see most of the time at first base. Behind the plate, sophomore Jon Salcedo (.234, 4 RBI) is steady defensively and boasts a good arm. He will be backed up by freshman Pat Coughlin.
Senior Kyle Silva (.303, 2 HR, 17 RBI) is expected to be a designated hitter against lefties and junior outfielder Nick Bernardo (.333, 5 RBI) lends clubhouse leadership and experience coming off the bench.
“These guys can hit,” Trimper said. “I think we can hit good pitching and beat up on some bullpens.”
UMaine’s projected starting lineup includes: Gay (CF), Black (SS), Adam (DH), Calbick (3B), Doran (RF), Heath (1B), Salcedo (C), Mercado (2B) and Balzano (LF).
“Last year was a bit of a disappointment at the end,” Calbick said. “For us seniors, going to that regional our freshman year, 2011 down at UNC [North Carolina], there’s a lot of motivation to get back there.”